Jared Diamond discusses one of the critical stops on the road map to societal failure in his book Collapse: It turns out that societies often fail even to attempt to solve a problem once it has been perceived. What happens, he writes, it that some people may reason correctly that they can advance their own interests by behavior harmful to other people. The perpetrators know they will often get away with their bad behavior, especially if there is no law against it or the law isnt effectively enforced. They feel safe because the perpetrators are typically concentrated (few in number) and highly motivated by the prospect of reaping big, certain and immediate profits, while the losses are spread over large numbers of individuals.
Diamond isn't specifically talking about oil companies and their mega-profits, but his scenario offers a precise explanation for the West's failure to act in the face of clear and present energy danger. With the oil companies and their supporters in Congress and the White House not only controlling the debate but assuring the public that a steady hand is at the tiller, we may very well drift toward the kind of abrupt collapse Diamond documents as having taken down the Vikings, the Mayans and the mysterious tribe that inhabited Easter Island. Instead of cryptic stone statues, we may leave behind rusting oil derricks and highways that lead nowhere.
This issue includes several Sidebars:
"We're Being Manipulated"
Biodiesel: The Burning Question
Nigeria of the North: Oil Sands Frenzy Threatens Alberta Environment
Compassionate Conservation: A Real Answer to High Oil Prices
Consider the Alternatives